Yelling at teens reinforces bad behavior
Think shouting at your teenager will get him or her to behave? Think again, say experts.
A study, published online this week in the journal Child Development, states that screaming at your teen as a form of discipline might make the bad behavior even worse. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that harsh verbal discipline may be just as damaging to a teen’s developing psyche as physical abuse.
Studying nearly 1,000 children ages 13 and 14 along with their parents, the study leaders found that increased shouting as a form of discipline for 13-year-olds lead to an increase in behavioral issues and depression in 14-year-olds.
“Maternal and paternal warmth did not moderate the reciprocal associations between mothers’ and fathers’ use of harsh verbal discipline and adolescent conduct problems and depressive symptoms over time,” the researchers wrote.
According to Lori Osborne, clinical psychologist at the Pediatric Developmental Center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, the study results come as no surprise.
“It’s been generally well-established that high-intensity parent-child interaction, whether negative or positive, ends up reinforcing the behavior,” Dr. Osborne says. “It actually has the opposite effect parents want. Because even negative attention—shouting and screaming—is attention most kids crave.”
Instead of screaming, she suggests working at having a dialogue with your teen, encouraging the feedback on the bad behavior as a learning opportunity for the child.
“Parents should set up consequences—good for good behavior and bad for bad. Teens need to be able to make choices and learn to live with the results.”
According to Dr. Osborne, past research has proven that positive reinforcement of good behavior is far stronger than screaming and shouting for bad. She says parents shouldn’t focus on the negative actions, but let the teens know and live with the consequences.
“It’s all part of growing up,” Dr. Osborne says. “It’s definitely easier said than done. It takes time and support—and practice.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.